So you have started studying for the MCAT and you are not sure when you should start taking MCAT practice tests.
First of all, it’s GREAT that you are thinking about practice tests. Why? Because taking MCAT practice tests is the key to your success on the exam.
But when should you take your first one?
You should start taking MCAT practice tests within the first 2 weeks of studying. To many, this might feel rushed, but it’s highly beneficial to get a feel for the MCAT right away.
If you’re the typical premed student, you are probably still skeptical. That’s totally fine, let me walk through the reasoning.
Shouldn’t I Do Content Review First So I Don’t Waste A Practice Test?
Here’s the first concern many premed students have. Isn’t it a waste of time (And a waste of a test) to take a practice exam you haven’t really studied for?
Surely your results will be subpar, so why bother. The last thing any student wants to do is waste time.
The reality is that you are not wasting your time. In fact, you are saving time. You can, and should, start taking MCAT practice tests before you finish the content review.
There are two major arguments for why you want to start taking MCAT practice tests earlier than later.
Reason 1: You need to get yourself in the MCAT mindset
The MCAT is going to be unlike any exam you have ever taken. The format is weird, the passages are complex, and the creators of the exam have a rather consistent approach to questions.
Not only that, but the MCAT is long and tiring. And just like running a marathon, you need to build strength and stamina first. This takes time and repetition.
Taking MCAT exams is not only about learning the material but also about getting yourself in the MCAT mindset.
When you start to learn how the creators of the exam approach passages and problems, this will train your brain to review content in a more efficient manner.
Reason 2: You will concentrate more time on high yield or hard to understand topics
While reviewing the practice tests you took you will start discovering your strengths and weaknesses regarding content on the MCAT.
You will also begin discovering what the MCAT consideres as high yield material. Some concepts are going to be more frequently tested on the MCAT and when you start to see this pattern you can make sure you are really covering those topics thoroughly during your content review.
You will also find that some topics are really easy for you. You can end up skipping those chapters when it appears in your MCAT books in order to spend more time on concepts that you are struggling with.
Should You Do A Diagnostic MCAT Practice Exam Before You Start Studying At All?
So I’ve already given you my opinion that you should start taking MCAT practice tests sooner than later.
Let’s take this one step further. Should you take a “diagnostic” MCAT exam before you even start studying at all.
There seem to be a lot of different opinions on this topic. Some people think that a diagnostic MCAT test will give you that base for improvement. Others think it’s a waste of time.
Our philosophy is to start taking MCAT practice tests within your first 2 weeks of studying. So if you decide to take that diagnostic MCAT test on day one, then no problem. Just make sure you treat it like a real exam.
When Should I Take AAMC’s Practice Tests?
This is a huge dilemma for premeds.
The AAMC’s MCAT practice tests are the best on the market. Why? Because they are the creators of the exam.
So the question is, do you start taking their very limited amount of practice tests early on or do you save them for the end.
There are very good arguments for both sides. On the one hand, taking them early on can really help you get in that MCAT mindset and focus your studies on the high-yield topics. On the other hand, taking them at the end will keep them fresh in your head for when it’s time for the real deal.
The AAMC has 4 full-length practice tests and a hodgepodge of other practice material (Which you can make into even more full-lengths, we explain how here). What we recommend is spreading these tests out evenly throughout your MCAT schedule. So if you are studying for 12 weeks, take one every 3 weeks.
Honestly, some of the 3rd party practice tests out there are becoming very accurate. My next favorite 3rd party MCAT practice tests are made by Blueprint (Formally NextStep). You’ll have plenty of extra practice material!
Which MCAT Practice Test Should I Take First?
This is really up to you. As I mentioned in the previous section, it’s totally fine to spread your AAMC practice tests throughout your schedule. Therefore, taking the first AAMC practice test as your first test is fine.
I ended up taking an AAMC full-length practice test first. I did this for 2 reasons:
- 3rd party MCAT practice tests can be a little bit harder than the real deal and I didn’t want to be discouraged
- I felt that a more accurate AAMC test would give me a better diagnostic to start out with
These are very minor reasons. Just go with your gut on this one. In the end, you will be taking many more practice tests anyway.
How Many MCAT Practice Tests Should You Take?
We covered this topic thoroughly in this post here.
The answer is 12 to 15 practice tests.
We feel that this number is the sweet spot. It’s plenty of practice (Trust me it’s a lot) without burning yourself out.